Who is responsible for the situation with people on the move in Bosnia and Herzegovina, if anybody?
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The living conditions for people on the move who have reached Bosnia, as the last stop before the EU, are not getting any better. Even more, living conditions are getting more precarious, even dangerous, for people on the move but also for those who are providing help.
At the moment, hundreds are sleeping rough all over the country. Those who are aiming to get to the north of the country, where they will try to continue their journey, are often deprived of freedom of movement and left without food or any kind of help at police check-points in the area of Ključ (Velečevo) and Bosanska Krupa.
After being stopped at one of the checkpoints, people are kicked off the buses and trains, and forced to find their way forwards or back. It means that they are forced to walk kilometres over the mountainous area, and they arrive with injuries that nobody treats properly due to the lack of medical care.
People who went through this kind of humiliation are talking about police abuse they witnessed or experienced, but also about help they got from the local people they met on the road. As we were told by more then one person, police officers are using violence, even against minors, while in several cases police threaten to people if they walk toward Bihać they will shoot at them.
Recently, authorities in the Bihać area (Una-Sana Canton) announced that they will start controlling even private vehicles looking for refugees and migrants. This is against the law, but they issued a decision they consider obligatory. However, there are no public reactions from the state authorities, or any international organisations who are in charge for the well being of people on the move, or human rights in general.
It is important to remember that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a post-war country, dysfunctional, and with problems that persist for years, like the problem with the implementation of the existing laws, or even the constitution. The country has three levels of government, and even local people are often victims of this system which was established with the Peace Agreement that ended the war in 1995.
People on the move, as a very vulnerable category, are falling into this abyss of Bosnian madness, the abyss where people from Bosnia and Herzegovina have been living in for over 20 years.
At the same time, international organizations, led by the IOM and UNHCR, who are supposed to fill these gaps and provide help, are failing to do so.
Nevertheless, people are walking toward Bihać and Kladuša. Once they reach these cities, most of them are left outside existing camps. The government in this area insists that no more than 3,200 people can be accommodated in existing centres. The number of people who are in the area, according to some estimates, is at least double that.
If they are not in the official accommodation, people have no access to registration or food, water, toilets or showers… The unsurprising consequences of this are that many are sick. For example scabies is outspread to the level that it is almost possible to talk about an epidemic among people on the move in Bosnia.
IOM and UNHCR, are not doing enough to improve this situation. Help is provided mostly by the local people, and groups of volunteers present in the country. However, what they can offer is very limited. Apparently, MSF and MDM will soon start operating in Kladuša.
In the meantime, since last week, the operational group established in the Bihać area, is in “permanent assembly,” making decisions related to the life of people on the move. These decisions are sometimes not in compliance with the existing laws.
In a public statement, Una-Sana government said that they will “intensify all the activities related to people on the move, including public health and policing”. They demanded an urgent reaction from the entity and the state governments, asking them to find alternative accommodation to relocate people from urban areas in Una-Sana Canton.
“Children, families with children and refugees from areas where there is ongoing war, will have a possibility to be placed in Borići and Sedra centres, and can remain as vulnerable categories. We call all the citizens to partner with us in these efforts,” the statement claims. It is not clear what kind of partnership with the citizens they expect.
The group issued a deadline of May 10th to the state authorities to find a solution for new centres. So far, nobody knows how this can be done.
It has to be reminded that since the election in October last year, Bosnia does not have a state government.
Authorities in Bihać also announced that they will file criminal or misdemeanour charges against anybody who is transporting people toward Una-Sana Canton, being official transportation companies (public or private ones), but also the state office for foreigners, part of the state Ministry of Security.
And that is not all.
Existing camps, run by IOM, are often in rented private properties. IOM claimed that they had to do that since the state authorities did not find any location for the camps, and it was necessary to accommodate people before the winter.
They do not give any explanations for why living conditions in these camps are humiliating, or responding to the violence and force used by the private security agencies engaged by the IOM inside of the camps.
Nevertheless, while making deals with the local private business owners to use their facilities, paying with the money coming from the EU, the IOM ignored the fact that some of these places could not be rented at all due to debts made by the owners during the previous years. This is the situation with Hotel Sedra, where families are placed, and BIRA. Hotel Sedra was supposed to go on public bid on August 25, 2018, but a couple of days before, IOM made an agreement with the owner. In the case of BIRA, some people claim that the factory owes them money announcing they will block all the entrances to the centre on April 24th. They claim that the owner of BIRA owes them over 200,000 euro, saying that under the court decision, IOM or anybody, cannot use parts of BIRA.
Beside the Bihać area, many people are still arriving at other cities all over Bosnia, including Trebinje, Doboj, Foča, Goražde, Mostar, Čapljina, Posušje, Orašje…
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